Wong Phui Nam (b. 1935)
Wong Phui Nam is a Malaysian poet writing in the English language. He was born in 1935 in Kuala Lumpur and received his early education at the Batu Road School and later at the Victoria Institution. He studied Economics at the University of Malaya in Singapore (now National University of Singapore), and since graduation worked mainly in development finance and merchant banking.
While in his second year at university, Edwin Thumboo’s Rib of Earth came out. He was so impressed by the collection, he began to think that it was possible for a Malayan to seriously take up writing as a vocation. He had in the meantime formed friendships with fellow aspiring writers, Tan Han Hoe and Oliver Seet. Together they hoped to create the beginnings of a Malayan literature in English by adding to the work of Thumboo and others like Wang Gungwu, Beda Lim, Lim Thean Soo, and Hedwig Anuar. Wong became actively involved in The New Cauldron, a literary magazine founded by students of Raffles College (which later became the University of Malaya). He was co-editor of Litmus One and 30 Poems, both anthologies of university verse. He also published an apprentice work, Toccata on Ochre Sheaves.
Most of the poems Wong wrote during the 1960s first appeared in Bunga Emas, an anthology of Malayan writing published in the United Kingdom in 1964 (Ed. T. Wignesan). They were subsequently collected in book form and published as How the Hills Are Distant in 1968 by Tenggara (Department of English, University of Malaya). There followed a hiatus of almost 30 years. Only in 1989 was his second volume Remembering Grandma and Other Rumourspublished by the English Department, National University of Singapore. In 1993, Skoob Books, London brought out Ways of Exile as a collected edition of his earlier poems, including those from Remembering Grandma written before the 1970s. Blackwater Books, Kuala Lumpur, published Against the Wilderness in 2000. In 2005, Maya Press, Selangor, published his collected under the title, An Acre of Day’s Glass. A sonnet sequence, The Hidden Papyrus of Hen-taui was published in 2013 by Ethos Books, Singapore.
Wong has written four plays beginning with Anike, which was published by Maya Press, Kuala Lumpur also in 2005 and performed the same year. The play was re-published by the journal Drunken Boat in the United States. In June 2006, a second play, Aduni, was published in the journal Asiatic. He has also translated Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck following the original text but changing the location of the action to Kuala Lumpur of the 1950’s. He is now working on extensive revisions to achieve a needed greater textual economy and simplicity of language in the plays. He hopes to complete the revisions of and publish Anike and other plays as a tetralogy adapted from classical Greek drama, to reflect on the current conditions that Malaysians find themselves in.
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